Print Edition - 2018-02-19  |  SILVER LININGS

Of the first water


Feb 19, 2018-

Born in a traditional Gurung family on December 1, 1949 and raised in the foothills of the Annapuna range Dr. Chandra Gurung had always been inclined towards nature.  This love for the outdoors, that took seed during his childhood in Sikles, Kaski, would later manifest in a life-long commitment to conservation nature through a unique integrated community-based model.


After completing high school in Pokhara, Gurung received an MA degree in Geography from Tribhuwan University, followed by M.Sc in Rural Development at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand. His studies then took him to the USA, where he earned a PhD in geography from the University of Hawaii in 1988.

Upon returning to Nepal, Gurung took to utilising the knowledge and experience of his extensive education to conserve forests and water sources at and around the Annapurna region. To do so, he launched a unique model of conservation that prioritised community participation and development. Gurung went on to design and oversee the implementation of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). Hailed as an innovative model combining conservation and community betterment, it soon earned him national and global recognition.

Gurung’s statement, “Only when people have food to eat on their plates can they think of conservation,” reflects the vision underpinning his integrated model of conservation and development, proving that both can go hand-in-hand without contradiction. 

Furthermore, to transfer ownership of the conservation projects, the charismatic Gurung would always find persuasive ways of convincing locals to take part. He would often do so by telling stories, like this one: Once a child approached a Hoja [Wise Man] with a bird cupped in his hands. Testing the knowledge of the Hoja, the boy asked “Can you tell me whether the bird in my hand is alive or dead?” The Hoja pondered for a moment and realised what the boy’s intentions were. If the Hoja would say the bird is alive, the boy would kill it and vice-versa.  “Whether the bird is dead or alive depends upon your wish,” The Hoja replied “If you clench your palms together tightly, the bird will die. But if you open your palms, you will release the bird and let it live.”

Through stories such as this, Gurung would inspire locals to participate in environmental protection. He emphasized that it was solely up to them whether to conserve their natural surroundings, or to watch it waste away.

Besides heading the ACAP project until 1999, Gurung also presided over World Wildlife Fund’s operations in Nepal for seven years and was the chairperson at the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project. In the course of his career, he also coordinated a sustainable tourism project for the United Nations and served as the member secretary of the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

Gurung devoted his life to conservation and did so till his last breath. He along with other 23 other high-level officials and renowned conservationists were killed in a helicopter crash on September 23, 2006.  Gurung might have departed too soon, but his unparalleled legacy continues to echo on.

— By Chandan Kumar Mandal

Published: 19-02-2018 12:22

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